Women's rights

I am not an incubator

Listening to the right talk about laws for “fetal rights” and “personhood” makes it sound like a fetus is an independent creature simply living inside of us for a short while because it has no way out until labor. The reality though, is that women are not simply keeping a fetus warm while it inevitably grows into a human. Clearly, otherwise many more women would have c-sections at 24 weeks so they don’t have to be pregnant for 40. Even if a woman goes into premature labor, which is defined as before 37 weeks, doctors try and do everything they can to keep the baby inside for as long as is possible and safe, because it needs our bodies to grow.

From the moment the embryo implants into the uterus, we are quite literally growing every single cell. There’s a reason why embryos only live so long on their own either in labs for in vitro or in a uterus before implantation. It literally needs us to grow, and it’s exhausting. The energy drain that pregnant women feel, especially in the first trimester, is evidence of this. The embryo or fetus is essentially a parasite, one that we want to nourish and will eventually become super cute and take over our hearts, but in the meantime, it’s taking over our bodies. Everything we eat and drink affects it, which is why so many things are legitimately off limits for pregnant women, like many drugs that are otherwise safe for non-pregnant people. The trajectory of an embryo becoming a fully formed baby is not guaranteed. As I discussed before, there are many things that can happen to interrupt or distort its growth (and sometimes nothing specific happens at all), and the result can be miscarriage or stillbirth. We are not simply vessels waiting for a human to inevitably come out. It’s not a landlord-tenant relationship. It is literally part of our bodies.

The battle between the rights of a fetus versus the rights of the mother to her own body are ridiculous.They are one and the same because WE are one and the same. There would be no fetus without the mother. My fetus is a part of me and my body. If I want him to grow into a healthy baby boy, there are certain things I know I should do, like eat healthy and take care of myself. Myself. Me. Same goes for when breastfeeding, helping baby grow with a different part of my body. If we want to say we care about potential children, we logically cannot disregard or go against what’s best for the mother as well.

Scary scenarios

After Donald Trump’s hilariously disastrous performance in the second presidential debate last Sunday, one comment started circulating that I found particularly thought provoking. The tweet read, “Trump won’t drop out. Hey, Republicans, how does it feel to be forced to carry something to term?” At first I actually laughed out loud at the irony, particularly since Mike Pence is being dragged along on this ticket and he has an abysmal, frightening record against women’s rights. But it did get me thinking about what it means to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against your will, something conservatives actually want to enforce.

If an alien species came to Earth and started implanting its embryos into male and female human abdomens, telling us it needed to leech away our nutrients until it grew into full form, and then would burst open and potentially kill us in the process (think of the movie Alien), we’d automatically be outraged and say what torturous, inhumane, totalitarian behavior that is. We’d say these aliens have no right to control us like that and make decisions for our bodily autonomy. The analogy is clearly ridiculous, but that’s the point. If it were anything else sucking the life out of us, it’d be torture and no one would expect you to respect the rights of the creature over your own. Yet when it’s our own species, it’s somehow acceptable to tell us what we can and can’t do with our bodies. What could come at the end of the pregnancy is more important than what is happening to a pregnant woman’s body now.

Even though I’ve called my future child a parasite and leech, I am incredibly excited to be pregnant and to become a parent. I love this creature inside of me so much already, and I can’t imagine how that love will blossom once he’s born in 8 weeks (approximately). At the same time though, I also cannot fathom what it would feel like to go through this pregnancy NOT wanting the child that would result. Those opposed to abortion, particularly men who cannot understand what pregnancy is like, typically say “it’s only 9 months” as if that’s no big deal. It’s not like it’s 9 months of paying off a debt, or 9 months of having to take a medication every day. This is 24/7. Once you live every single second of every single day for 40 whole weeks feeling sick, exhausted, nauseous, achey, having back pain, not being offered a seat on a crowded bus or train despite said physical discomforts, constantly feeling the urge to pee, not being able to sleep, and who knows what other symptoms many women feel, only when you’ve lived that will you understand that 9 months is no small feat.

I’ve been incredibly lucky that my pregnancy has been relatively complication and symptom free compared to many other women. But even so, if I knew that at the end of this 8 week countdown, the result would be a baby that I could not take care of, a baby that would ruin my future, my finances, my relationships, my career, my body, etc, I can only imagine how horrifying these last 7 months would have been. I’m already overwhelmed with all the things I need to prepare for and all the changes that will come, and that’s me WANTING to be a parent. Adoption is an easy out, some say, forgetting how hard the pregnancy actually is, and how hard it can be to part with this child you’ve grown inside of you, no matter how much you know in your head that it’s the right decision.

Luckily, I also became pregnant by my husband in a loving, consensual manner. Had I been raped, I cannot fathom the thought of knowing that these extreme bodily changes were the result of someone violating me. To feel every kick and movement inside of me as a reminder that I was raped, that at one point someone else was inside me against my will, would be incredibly re-traumatizing. Especially considering this baby moves at least 100 times a day. 100 times a day remembering why I’m in this state, who did this to me, and why I have to have my life and body completely altered as a result. Or perhaps you’re still with the abusive partner, and knowing that you’ll have a child together means you know he’ll have more power over you, more control over the family. Even if you break up or divorce, that connection will forever be there even if you have sole custody.

Trying to imagine that this is something that the right wing wants to force on women (to say nothing of the pains of actual labor and birth), is disgusting to me. Some women may be able to turn a tragedy or mistake into a beautiful situation, but that’s their choice, a choice that cannot be forced on anyone. To say that they want to force such extreme physical and emotional actions on a woman because they care about “life” is just absurd, especially when they simultaneously are opposed to universal healthcare for children, welfare for families with children, gun control, and many other life saving programs. It’s a sadistic pleasure in watching women suffer who’ve done something wrong, who’ve acted out of line, who’ve had the audacity to have bodily autonomy and do something like have sex outside of marriage (also ignoring how many married women opt for abortions). This is the true desire to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term: to control.

Final thoughts

This was all I had to say on the topic at the moment, but I’m sure more will come to me as pregnancy and motherhood progress. We shall see. I’d like to see some light at the end of this tunnel, for all states to have equal protections for pregnant women and equal access to reproductive rights. Only time will tell, and until then, I’ll continue to fight and speak out wherever I can.

Stances on abortion and women’s healthcare are more than just differing opinions. Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump WILL become our next president, and that president will appoint not just Scalia’s open Supreme Court seat, but potentially 3 others who will retire during the next term. There are also many federal judge seats that Congress will have to approve, and since most abortion restrictions and fetal personhood laws are made and challenged at the state level, these are also incredibly important. Having a president who doesn’t respect women, doesn’t respect the right to choose, doesn’t believe that women’s healthcare is an issue, and does believe that women should be punished for their decisions about their own bodies is NOT the kind of leader we need. It is the kind of leader we will get if enough people decide to stay home or vote 3rd party on election day though.

The consequences

There’s more than just rhetoric about whether abortion is right or wrong, evil or acceptable, sad but necessary or the downfall of society. For half of the population who are potentially affected by pregnancy, this isn’t simply a debate of competing philosophical ideas. These ideas have some so enraged, ideas like women actually having agency over their own bodies and being able to make their own decisions, that the right is enacting laws to not only restrict but to criminalize those decisions. Ridiculous restrictions like waiting periods treat women like children who just need to go home and calm down and think rationally about their choice (because obviously there’s only one rational decision that every woman should make). Unrealistic and unnecessary requirements like admitting privileges are closing many clinics and making access to abortion an undue burden. Luckily, the Supreme Court agrees, like the recent case in Texas showed, but even that ruling came too late for many shuttered clinics, and many other states are still battling the same issue. 

Even if you don’t choose abortion, simply being pregnant is a legal risk nowadays. “Fetal personhood” laws treat a part of my body as if it’s a separate entity with separate rights to the rest of me. It’s like if a lawyer were to advocate for the kidney I wanted to donate. This happened to Alicia Beltran when she was arrested for a drug addiction she had before she got pregnant. Her fetus had legal representation at the hearing and she was forced into rehab, but she was denied counsel. 

This is becoming more and more of a concern and fear for pregnant women. 38 states have feticide laws, meant to protect a pregnant woman from abusive partners and dangerous, unlicensed abortion providers, but they have begun to backfire on the pregnant women themselves. Those laws in 23 states even apply to the very early stages of pregnancy.

One terrifying example is Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman in Indiana who was convicted early last year and sentenced to 20 years in prison for having a stillbirth. Recently, the conviction was overturned, but not before a lengthy legal battle and a scary precedent to use feticide laws against a pregnant woman.

Also take the case of Bei Bei Shuai, another Indiana resident who was charged with feticide.  She became depressed during her pregnancy after her boyfriend abandoned her and refused to help raise the child. She attempted suicide by taking rat poison. At the hospital, doctors were able to save her but not the fetus, and she was arrested.

There are countless other stories of pregnant women’s civil rights being taken away. Some examples from this NY Times piece

“Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.” -Lynn M Paltrow and Jeannie Flavin

Pregnancy dystopia

My high school English class read Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, and afterwards we had to write our own short story dystopia as an assignment. I remember that I wrote one in which pregnant women were locked up for the entire 9 months on strict diets and daily regimes, separated from the dangerous outside world but also from their lives and loved ones. These pregnancy prisons were billed to the public as spas meant to protect and pamper women and their fetuses, but the reality was that the women were captives with no rights of their own. Many lost their jobs upon re-entering the world (something that is not uncommon with just regular maternity leave, if one is even offered by the employer). Pregnant women were punished for breaking the rules, causing stress to mother and fetus that those running the centers clearly didn’t care about. Many women tried to break out or commit suicide. Outside, women tried to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible before the police came and hauled them away. The emotional disregard for these women resulted in poor physical health and severe mental problems, as well as many medical complications and deaths of the babies, for which the women were of course blamed.

This came from the mind of an imaginative 14-year-old, but it’s really not that far fetched. Pregnant women are already so criticized, when does that criticism cross over into being controlling? When pregnant women can’t even be trusted to take care of themselves and their fetus, when does the state just take over? We already see cases where pregnant women who admit to taking even safe drugs are arrested if their babies are completely healthy.  Women are strapped down and forced to have c-sections against their will. Child protective services can be called and the child taken away if a laboring woman doesn’t agree to a c-section in some cases. 

These abuses of our civil rights are done in the name of saving babies, except it doesn’t actually happen that way. For example, 32% of women in the US undergo a c-section, and some specific hospitals have even higher rates. Most are allegedly for medical emergencies, and have in fact been a great medical advance that have saved countless mothers and babies. But studies show that a c-section rate of up to 19% is optimal, but the US’s rate has increased 50% in the last 15 years. An entire third of births do not require them. “Better safe than sorry,” some say, “doctors just have the best interest of mother and baby in mind.” If that were so, you’d think that we’d be really good saving the lives of mothers and babies, when in fact the US has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any developed country.  A lot of this has to do with insurance and liability, doctors trying to cover their asses in case something were to happen, at least they can say “well we tried something.It cannot be denied that ripping open a woman’s body solely for convenience and saving face is an utterly dehumanizing disregard for these patients’ well beings.


I can certainly commend the theory of trying to enact laws to protect pregnant women, especially since murder is the number one cause of death among pregnant women. Not the number one non-medical cause of death or non-pregnancy related death. Number one. Period. Statistically, I am more likely to be killed by my husband than I am to die of preeclampsia or childbirth. The way to help though is not to give rights to a fetus and treat it like a separate, autonomous being, but to make pregnant women themselves a protected class, so that crimes against them are treated more seriously and prosecuted more severely. When an abusive partner comes after a pregnant women, he’s not trying to hurt the fetus and leave his partner out of harm’s way. He’s angry at her and wants to hurt her, but all right wing lawmakers seem to care about is the fetus inside of her. The laws should reflect the crime, that of trying to hurt the pregnant woman. That way, pregnant women themselves aren’t faced with prosecution.

Most people think “sexism” or “sexist” and they think of women being denied certain jobs simply because they’re a woman. They think unequal pay for equal work. They think of preferential treatment towards men in all aspects of society, from jobs to laws on protection to everyday life. They think of a stereotypical man who thinks that all women belong in the house and that their sole purpose is to make babies and pleasure men. They think of a man who makes derogatory comments to his female coworkers and make inappropriate gestures towards them. They think of someone who cat calls to a woman as she walks down the street. And while all of these things do in fact still exist in varying degrees in today’s society whether we want to believe it or not, this is not what today’s sexism is about.

Today’s sexism is much more subtle. Any semi-intelligent person can tell that the above examples are blatant sexual discrimination, and that it’s wrong. Generally, sexism is no longer condoned in American society. But that by no means implies that it no longer exists. Quite the contrary. Because the new sexism is much more subtle, people continue to perpetuate it without even realizing it. People will become angry and object when called a sexist because they don’t fit the old definition, therefore they don’t think they fit any definition of sexist. But that is also why the new sexism is so powerful and so prevalent: because so many people think it’s okay.

Example: The popular website, Texts From Last Night, publishes supposed text messages that typically represent a person’s debauchery from the evening before. This was published the other day: “i fell off the bed in the middle of it, and he yelled “5 second rule” and kept fucking me. i think im in love.” While imagining this situation, I literally laughed out loud, especially given that I have also fallen off the bed during such activities before. However, I then wondered why, in that situation where his girlfriend (or hook up buddy or one night stand or whatever) has fallen and could possibly be in pain, why was his first thought about a reference to food (the “5 second rule” referring to the fact that if a piece of food has fallen on the floor for less than 5 seconds, it’s still safe to eat)? Why was it that he basically compares this woman to a piece of food, and not only that but implies that after “5 seconds” she would no longer be suitable?

I realize that this was in no way this man’s intention, and he may in fact have utmost respect for women by today’s standards. He meant to make a joke, to make this woman feel less embarrassed about being uncoordinated enough to fall off the bed in the first place. But it’s not his intentions that are the problem. The problem is his unconscious association with women and food, inanimate objects to be consumed. (This is very reminiscent of the controversial Hustler issue of June 1978 which depicted a woman in a meat grinder, as well many other depictions of women as food.)

Another example is the way in which so many people, men and women, refer to someone who is weak as a “pussy,” inferring that female genitalia is inherently weak. Some may counter argue that to call someone a “dick” is also derogatory, but when you compare the full list of nicknames for male and female genitalia (as I mentioned in my post about language and gender), it is clear that female genitalia is made to look gross (cum dumpster, penis parking, bearded axe wound), whereas the penis is a powerful symbol (the sword, the rod, Russell the one-eyed wonder muscle).

These are all very subtle, even subconscious ways in which both men and women perpetuate sexism in today’s society. It’s no longer the blatant ideas that men and women are different and should serve different roles in society: sexism has evolved to be the almost unnoticeable derogatory references to women by all people, even those who claim to be for women’s rights. Not only that, but when people like myself point out the sexism in such comments, we are yelled at and told that we’re over-analyzing everything, that the person’s intention wasn’t sexist therefore the comment or action itself wasn’t sexist. This not only helps perpetuate these sexist ideals, but it also builds resentment towards feminists and the woman’s rights movement.

People don’t think they’re being sexist, and not only that, but they resent being called sexist because of what they think of themselves. But who’s to say what’s sexist and what’s not? The person telling stupid “jokes” to make people laugh, or the women who are thoroughly offended by such comments, who feel targeted and made to feel inferior? Should we “get over it”? But how exactly does one “get over” discrimination? Or rather, shouldn’t those perpetuating sexism “get over it” and admit what they’re doing and take steps to stop it, instead of deny it?

I vote for the latter.

For those “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fans, I’m sure you’re familiar with the D.E.N.N.I.S. system. For those who don’t know, the character Dennis makes a 6-step, fool-proof plan for how to seduce women and get laid, using the letters in his name as an acronym. I am in no way advocating this system, because he uses, emotionally abuses, and then abandons these women once he’s slept with them. He’s a complete asshole. However, due to my lack of ability to write a proper blog post in the past few months, and given how much I miss writing the Sex and the Dimple column for The Wheaton Wire, I’m going to discuss the K.A.T.I.E. system of sexual seduction. Disclaimer: I will be talking about stereotypes of heterosexual relationships, so I fully acknowledge that this is not typical of all heterosexuals, and I also apologize for not touching upon homosexual relationships. Perhaps that will be a separate blog post.

Most people, especially women, think that if a woman “puts out” too soon in a relationship, the man will lose respect and interest in the woman. They think he’ll have no reason to stick around since he already got what he wanted. (Apparently, all men want is sex, and women do not in fact want it, at least according to this theory. And obviously men can get it whenever they want, seeing as they will cease to call said woman once he gets sex and thus go elsewhere.) My theory is that if a man does abandon a woman after sex simply because he “got what he wanted” and has lost respect for her because she was too “easy,” then he’s a complete douchebag and not worth dating. But hey, at least she (hopefully) got a good lay out of it!

That’s the positive spin on it: everyone comes out a winner. Man gets the sex he wants; woman gets sex, too, and avoids wasting her time dating an asshole who was only going to use her for sex anyways. And yet, many women see a problem with this scenario. So, let’s change it.

Woman withholds sex for the first few weeks. Jerk of a man seduces her during said period and spends lot of time, effort, and money wining and dining her. Woman feels flattered and eventually gives in and has sex due to the over-abundance of material investment man has made. Jerk Man is disappointed, thinking the first encounter awkward sex (because let’s face it, first sex is always awkward) was hardly worth all the time, effort and money. Woman gets emotionally attached because she thinks she’s finally made an emotional connection with jerk man. Jerk Man loses interest. Jerk Man dumps woman. Woman is heart broken.

Granted, if he wasn’t a jerk, perhaps he’d form an emotional connection with the woman during the no-sex period. However, if he wasn’t a jerk, he also would never use the woman for sex to begin with, so the time frame in which first sex occurred wouldn’t matter. Basically, the moral of the story is that if you’re dating a jerk, he’s still going to be a jerk no matter how long you wait to have sex with him, and will probably get hurt in the end. In my opinion, it’s better to get it over with sooner rather than later to avoid the emotional heartbreak, and possibly get a good shag out of it.

This is not to say every woman (or man) wants to “give it up” so soon. Some people just personally aren’t ready to until they’ve formed an emotional attachment to the person they’re with. That’s fine; everyone has personal preferences. All I’m saying, is that women shouldn’t feel pressured to withhold sex because they think they have to. Newsflash: Women like sex just as much as men do.

Sometimes, if you have sex soon into a relationship, the man has such low expectations and is pleasantly surprised by the furtive romp in the sack. He thinks, “Wow, this chick is awesome! Why wouldn’t I want to call her again?” This is, of course, assuming he understands that the women does not get emotionally attached to every man she sleeps with and he is thus not scared of a commitment he is not ready for. (Disclaimer: I want to reiterate that some people, women and men, do get emotionally attached to every person they sleep with. There is nothing wrong with that, although it can lead to more heartbreaks if one is not careful. That being said, there is also nothing wrong with people who are able to detach their emotions from sexual acts.)

After said couple engage in multiple acts of coitus, they are able to form an emotional connection. At least in personal experience, the post-coitus state of mind is much more relaxed and allows for more open and honest conversation and connection with one’s partner. Perhaps after this casual, sexual relationship ensues for some time, the couple will realize that they actually have developed feelings for one another, that perhaps they want to make their relationship something more than casual dating and hooking up. Perhaps the prospective of future casual hooking up will keep the man interested until he realizes his true feelings for the woman. This may not be the case, and the relationship may dissolve. Again, at least they got a good lay out of it.

I see nothing wrong with casual sexual interactions. Given that said encounters are safe and responsible, meaning that birth control and communication are key ingredients, why should a woman not “give up” sex? What is she in fact giving up? Why isn’t a man thought of giving something up when he sleeps with someone? After all my experiences, I still have my dignity, my pride, my self-confidence, self- esteem, and have been pregnancy and disease-free. Heck, I might even be more self-confident knowing that I’ve been able to have such successful relationships, both casual and serious.

I think it is also worth noting that not all women are looking for relationships, and not all men are looking for casual sex. But again, I said I was talking about stereotypes.I also want to touch upon this idea that a man loses respect for a woman who’s too “easy.” Whether or not he stops seeing her after sex begins, if he doesn’t have respect  for her simply for being a sexually secure and confident female, then he’s still a jerk and not worth dating. Along with birth control and communication, respect is vital to any relationship.

I was going to think of a clever acronym, maybe Kick Attract Tame Initiate Enjoy. Kick them to get their attention (just like in kindergarten). Attract them by flirting. Tame their desires with playful kisses. Initiate sex (men love women who take control). Enjoy the ensuing encounter, which may or may not evolve into something more. But then again, I don’t want to sound too much like the douchebag Dennis.

Women, the only person who won’t respect you after sex is yourself. So if you are able to enjoy safe, responsible casual sexual encounters, by all means do it! It’s your sex life and that’s all that matters!

When I first heard that the Hofstra student who was the alleged victim of gang rape recanted her accusation, I was a bit skeptical. To me, it sounded as though she was harassed and forced into saying that it was a consensual act in order to clear the four men of charges. I later learned that there was apparently a cell phone video of the event, in which she claimed she was tied up and beaten, which the video showed no evidence of.

I’m naturally still skeptical of the entire situation, but what I’m more upset at is the media portrayal of it. I read the news on a daily basis and would like to think that I keep up with major events in today’s world. However, I hadn’t heard of this case until after she recanted her accusation. Now, the media’s painting the four men as the victims. I’m not denying that they are victims, that they were wronged and they deserve justice. If this woman really did falsely accuse these men of gang rape, then she deserves to be punished and these men deserve to have their names cleared.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is that too many times these are the only stories that we hear. So many times, either through the media or through the friend of a friend, the stories we hear are the horrible women who falsely accuse men of rape, assault and harassment. These men will forever have their names tarnished, and that is a shame. I am in no way justifying the actions of women who charge false allegations against innocent men to either hide their own actions or to simply be vindictive, because it is a crime.

But what about the millions of women who actually get raped, beaten and harassed, and their perpetrators are never found nor tried? What about the millions, yes millions, of women who are true victims and are too scared to speak out, who are shamed into thinking it was their fault or that they deserved it, who are never given justice? What about the millions of rapists who go unnoticed, undetected and keep on raping, who live their lives every day knowing that they got away with something? Where’s the justice there? Why don’t we hear about those stories? Why is it that these stories exponentially outnumber the cases of false rape accusations, yet we hear so little about them unless it’s an extreme situation such as a father kidnapping and raping his daughter for 30 years?

A few months ago at home for break, my mom’s boyfriend was reading the local newspaper. A woman who worked for the county clerk accused her boss of sexual harassment and he was fired. It made front page news. My mom’s boyfriend picks up the paper, reads the headline, and the first thing he says is, “Oh my god, this woman accused her boss of harassment, how dare she, she ruined his life, all these women, ruining men’s lives over false accusations of harassment, they’re just overreacting!” It never occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, this white man was actually guilty of the crime he was being accused of. It never occurred to him that just possibly, her right to freedom from harassment at the workplace overrides his right to say and do whatever he wants simply because he’s a white male.

White men think that whatever they say goes, they make the rules, they set the standards, and anyone who disagrees is obviously out to get them. If a man says to a woman in the office, “Those pants make your butt look great!”, they think they’re giving a compliment. They think, “Well, if a woman said that to me, I’d think of it as a compliment, so therefore it must be a compliment.” I.e., “If this is what I think, anyone who disagrees with my white male view of the world is obviously a lunatic and just needs to suck it up.”

Newsflash: not everyone is a white male, and not everyone processes things the same way. If a man that I worked with said my butt looked great in a pair of pants, that would mean he was staring at my butt (which is inappropriate for the workplace), and that he felt that he had the right to comment on it. Why does he have that right? Why does he think that my body is out for display and he is free to comment on it in any way he sees fit? Some may say, “Well if you didn’t want to be complimented you shouldn’t wear such form fitting clothes, you slut, you’re asking for it.” I’m sorry, since when were baggy pants in fashion for women? Since when did a woman wear baggy pants to work and not get criticized for “not being feminine enough”? Double standard anyone?

Point is, we need to stop making women out to be the badguys. We need to stop only focusing on the few cases in which some women abuse the system set up to protect them. There are people that abuse every system; does that mean we should take away the systems altogether? E.g. Just because some people kill others with guns, should we take away the 2nd Amendment, are all gun owners bad people? Certainly not. We need to direct our focus on the women who actually are victims, the women who are assualted and raped on an hourly basis and have no voice in this world. I (and many other feminists) are not trying to paint all men as evil, or assume that every man is a rapist. We’re not trying to accuse every man of wrongdoing. We’re calling those men who aren’t rapists to stand with us and end the violence, to end the pain, and to give a voice to those women and men who are sexually abused and assaulted. Don’t let them remain silent in fear.

I’m a nice person. I’m a generally happy person and I love life. As I mentioned in my last post, I smile when I pass people on the street at home, I try to be cheery and make others feel happy and comfortable. I’m not like this 100% of the time because well, who is? But I’d definitely say that the vast majority of the time I’m a happy person. Life has so much to offer and as a recent college graduate, I’m just starting my life.

Now, why do I even have to mention this? Why do I have to justify and defend my like-ability? Shouldn’t people already know this about me if they know me? Yes, they should and they do, for the most part. But every now and then I’ll go on a rant about something that ticks me off (usually concerning women’s rights), or I’ll write on this blog or, previously, in my school newspaper The Wheaton Wire. As a writer, I value the opinions of my friends and peers when it comes to what I write. However, sometimes when I ask their opinion, they tell me, “It was good, but you sound angry.”

The way they say it makes it sound like a bad thing. It’s not, “You go girl, you were so pissed off, you really showed them and told them how it is!” It’s more of a, “You sounded angry, that’s so unattractive, why would you write about something like that? Why aren’t you happy? Are you okay?”

No, I’m not okay. There are many things in this world that royally piss me off. Such as the lack of access to affordable birth control for all women, the lack of access to abortion in all states, the horrible abstinence-only sex “education” programs that warp the minds of the youth, the fact that women still get paid less than men, the fact that I can’t walk down the street without getting harassed, gender stereotypes and expectations… just to name a few.

You know what else pisses me off? The fact that I’m apparently not allowed to be pissed off. Granted, I’m allowed to have a bad day and be upset over things like a bad grade, cheating boyfriend, bad hair day, having my period, or other personal problems. However, if I’m angry about something that actually matters in the real world, I’m just the epitome of the angry feminist stereotype: hates the world, hates all men, does nothing but complain and makes a big deal out of nothing. Basically, someone that nobody wants to be around. The same goes for the angry black man stereotype: hates all white people, thinks he’s being discriminated against when he’s really just overreacting (Henry Louis Gates anyone?), and if he gets too angry, a dangerous threat to society.

But of course we’re angry! White women, black men, purple transsexuals – it doesn’t matter what gender or color we are, what matters is that we’re NOT white men and are thus disadvantaged. Of course we’re angry that we’re judged based on what we’re not (white men) instead of what we are (individuals with our own, equally valid experiences). Of course we’re angry that the society we live in is set up to systematically oppress us at all corners. Of course we’re angry that when we speak up, no one listens because we’re just another stereotype. Of course we’re pissed off as hell!

I’m angry that because I’m a woman, I’m expected to always have a smile on my face and just put up with the oppression around me. I’m angry that I’m not supposed to care about disadvantaged women, because since I do benefit from certain privileges (such as being white and college educated), they don’t concern me. I should just live in a bubble and be happy. While no one’s actually used to word “bubble” before, I’ve essentially gotten that advice from numerous people. Why waste all my energy on being angry about something that doesn’t affect me?

By the way, apparently sexism doesn’t affect me because there is no such thing anymore (same with racism, we have a black president, duh!). In fact, it’s all reverse-discrimination now, and I actually have an unfair advantage just for having a vagina. Because no one admits to being sexist or racist nowadays, it obviously doesn’t exist. Just like the cop who called Gates a “banana-eating jungle monkey,” he said he’s not racist because he has black friends, so he’s obviously telling the truth. We should trust the white man.

Ah..ah… AH-CHOO! Excuse me, I’m allergic to bullshit.

I’m a happy person. But there are things in the world that piss me off, and instead of sitting on my blog to bitch about it, I hope to do something about it. I also hope that I no longer have to justify my niceness, especially to people who know me very well. I hope that being a feminist and being angry about certain issues does not mean I’m an extremist and a man-hater. I also hope that I’m not expected to be super cheery and perky 24/7 simply because I’m a woman. So, sorry if I care about people, sorry if I get angry about blatant (and subtle) discrimination in society, and sorry that I’m not just going to put up with it.

On second thought, I take that back. I’m NOT sorry.

On job applications I always say that I’m very friendly and work well with people. It’s true. Ask anyone who knows me: I always have a smile when I meet people and make them feel very comfortable. It’s especially important given the sensitive nature of the field I want to go into, reproductive health and sexual education. At Wheaton, I had many people who felt comfortable coming to me with very sensitive questions because they trusted that I not only knew the answer or at least knew where to point them to find the answer, but that I would keep their stories confidential and not judge them based on what they asked. These people would not just be close friends of mine, but students that I had one class with, or a friend of a friend who was sitting at lunch with us, or even people I had never met before would approach me when I sat at the Sexual Health Awareness Club (SHAC) table at the Women’s Health Day fair.

But even in the 110F (43C) degree weather, I feel like Tunisia has made me cold. At home when I walk around campus or even down the streets of Boston, I hold my head up, look at people as they pass, smile, make eye contact and sometimes say a friendly hello in passing. Often it’s reciprocated. More often than not when I’m in the city, I’ll never see these people again, yet I’m still friendly.

Here, however, I only do that with women on the street. If it’s a man I know, like the shop keeper near where I work or the sandwich place I frequent, then it’s a different story. But more often than not, if a random man on the street is trying to make eye contact with me, it’s not because he wants to say a friendly hello: he’s looking at me like a piece of meat on display.

I go out in public because I need to go to work, to do errands, to get from point A to point B. I go out to meet friends and have a good time, because I shouldn’t feel intimidated and forced to stay at home simply because I’m a woman. I do NOT go out in public to be put on display, to be stared at and judged by every man I pass. I do not go out for their viewing pleasure, nor do I dress the way that I do for such. As I said, it’s 110F degrees here some days. I have no idea how women who wear hijab handle it, but I could not bear to be covered head to toe. I wear tank tops and T-shirts, as do many Tunisian women here, if not most in this area. I wear long skirts, and dresses and shorts that don’t go above my knees. I’m not breaking some cultural custom, nor am I being offensive to anyone. I’m acting just like any other woman here. Although, it’s interesting to see how many people from home, especially male friends, are so quick to suggest I wear hijab to avoid street harassment. For one, I’m white so it probably wouldn’t make a difference. Second, why should the burden be put on me to cover up simply because the men can’t act respectably?

If I see a man on the street here, my initial reaction is to ignore them. If they look at me, I look away. I do not make eye contact, I do not smile, and I especially do not say hello. If a man calls out to me as I pass, I ignore him. (Sometimes I’ll pick my nose as a non-verbal way to say, “Think I’m still sexy now?”) Most often they just want to get a reaction out of me, have the exotic, white woman look at them and make them feel more manly. I do not give them such an honor. However, there are the rare instances where someone legitimately is trying to be friendly and just say hello, but it’s often hard to tell the difference. One time a man pulled over in his car to ask me for directions. I ignored him because all the past times men pulled over it was to hit on me and try to pick me up. However, I didn’t realize what he was asking until after he drove off. I felt bad, because he needed help and I could have helped him. But how was I to know?

As a foreigner and especially as a Westerner, it is expected that I should just act nice; I should accept that blatant disrespect for women is a regular occurrence  and not try to impose my evil, Western views onto their culture. I should just behave, not try to offend anyone, and keep quiet. Granted, it’s totally okay for a man to offend me, to degrade me in public, feel as though he has free reign to comment on my physical appearance in any way he sees fit. But, especially seeing as things like cursing and giving the finger are taken much more seriously here, it would be very disrespectful for me to show my disgust at his behavior by reacting in such a way, one of the few ways I can react given the language barrier.

Does that seem not okay to anyone else? He’s allowed to disrespect me because he’s a Tunisian, a native, and most importantly a man, but in return I have to make sure I don’t disrespect him? I have to be the quiet woman and just put up with it? I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, because more often than not they don’t. I’m also not trying to create a social reform movement here; it’s not my place. I also do not want to make all Westerners look like horribly disrespectful people and further the negative stereotypes people have of us. But as a self-respecting woman, regardless of where I come from, it is not okay that a man thinks such behavior is okay. It is not okay that he will teach said behavior to his son and perpetuate the cycle of sexism. I’m not expecting things to change, especially not in the month left that I have here. However, don’t expect me to be a nice girl anymore.

Obviously some stereotypes cross multiple cultures, such as the widespread belief that women are weaker and inferior. Many of the others though, I was surprised to find that they crossed borders, even among the extremely open-minded class. However, I then wondered why I was surprised, because shouldn’t it make sense that a culture with more discriminatory views on women would hold these stereotypes? Many times, people use cultural differences to justify the perpetuation of a certain discriminatory behavior. For example, when I complain about street harassment here, some common responses I receive from Americans and Tunisians alike are, “Well that’s just the way things are here, get over it,” “That’s just their culture, if you speak out against street harassment then you’re disrespecting their entire culture,” or even, “Well it’s not as bad as in some other countries, so stop complaining.” Just because something is “normal” or “just part of the culture” doesn’t make it right. Nor does the frequency of discrimination make it more or less right. Nor does disliking one aspect of a culture mean that I’m anti-Muslim or anti-Arab. Nor does it mean I’m trying to impose my western views onto a non-western culture. I feel that gender equality (and all equality) shouldn’t be seen as a western way of life, but a human way of life.

So, what stereotypes am I talking about? Today, I was talking with a male friend about a skit I acted in for my school called Drawing the Shades. It’s used in many freshman orientation programs as a way to raise awareness and educate people on rape and sexual assault in a very powerful way. The 4 actors portray 4 real people, 2 men and 2 women, one gay and one straight each. One of the male characters gets raped by a woman while drunk, and my Tunisian friend found that baffling.

I find that many males think it’s impossible for a woman to rape a man, thinking either that a man wouldn’t be able to achieve an erection if he didn’t want to have sex (which is false, because how many men have gotten hard-ons at inopportune times, say, in the middle of class?), or that he would be strong enough to push the woman off. The one excuse that really shocked me though was the belief that no man would ever not want sex, so therefore it couldn’t be rape.

Of course I’ve heard this before back home. However, I feel that most Tunisian youths are more relationship centered. Many women won’t have sex with a man unless he’s committed to her, for many of the same reasons women at home do the same. But it’s more so here due to the Muslim influence that women need to be virgins at marriage. (Fun fact: Hymen reconstruction is the most popular  surgery for young women here. Since women do enjoy sex, and despite the stereotypes and pressure to remain “pure,” women will have sex before marriage but appear to remain a virgin for their next beau.) I’ve also noticed from the streets and from living with Tunisian families, that many young men seen to be extremely infatuated with their girlfriends and thoroughly enjoy monogamous relationships, even if they only last a year or so. I know a Tunisian male who has repeatedly turned down offers for sex by attractive young women because he wants more of a connection, he wants to actually care about the woman before he sticks it in her.

Another shocking comment was that my friend said, “A man who gets raped is a pussy.” I’m not sure if this meant, “He’s a pussy if he’s too weak that he couldn’t fight her off,” or “He’s a pussy for not wanting sex.” Maybe both. However, this stereotype perpetuates the stigma of male rape and is part of why most male rapes go unreported. Men are made to feel emasculated if they are taken advantage of sexually in any way.

I also know many men who are very offended by the stereotype that all men are supposed to be raging sex maniacs 24/7 and have completely unemotional feelings towards the women they sleep with. They feel pressured into acting a certain way, or feel as though there’s something wrong with them for wanting a meaningful relationship. To these men, all I can say is hold on. With time, hopefully this stereotype will also fade out.

Another stereotype that I found crossed border was the belief that marital rape is an oxymoron. Especially in such a male-dominated culture, I expected that many people would think a man can’t rape his wife, since they think she agreed to sleep with him whenever he wants when she said “I do.” Another fun fact: In Tunisia, a woman can press charges for and file for divorce if her husband forces her into having anal sex. As for unwanted penile-vaginal sex, I do not know the law, seeing as this is viewed as the “proper” way to consummate and anal sex is obviously dirty and unnatural (sarcasm). I have to do further research.

So what’s my point? I don’t really have one. Maybe that gender stereotypes are bad? Well, duh! This was more of a reflection on what I observed, and a desire for negative stereotyping to end. Naturally, it’s a rather lofty goal, but maybe we can at least  try to break down some of those barriers and enact laws to protect those people that the stereotypes hurt.

I noticed something interesting on my way to work today. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the school I’m going to teach English at, and so far I’ve only gone during midday. However, tonight I went to sit in on a class that started at 7, so a lot of the shops had started to close down. It’s not that they were no longer open for business, but the feel of them changed. They changed into male-only spaces.

For example, this one fish market, earlier in the day the doors were open, people coming in and out. But later, The doors were closed, a few men were inside chatting, hanging out. If I really needed to buy fish, I could have walked in and gotten some. However, I would have felt really awkward and out of place. It’s not like they’d stop dead in their tracks and stare, I wouldn’t feel  in danger, but I’d feel as though I was intruding in their space and it would draw attention.

My theory is that a society will not be able to fully thrive in today’s world without learning how to truly behave in a coed environment. Not that they can’t thrive if they oppress women, because they have in the past. But in today’s world we have women’s rights (or at least, some of them), women entering the workforce in all fields, women entering college in greater numbers than men, even female presidents and politicians in various countries. The world, at least what one would consider the developed world, is moving in the direction of gender equality.

However, having women’s rights on the books (like Tunisia does) and having actual gender equality in society (which Tunisia does not), are two very different things. Heck, there isn’t even full gender equality in the US, the supposed leader of the modern world. But if this world is moving in the direction of equality, people have to be comfortable in coed situations of all kinds, even impromptu ones. Not just in school where coeducation is mandated, but in cafes, on the streets, in the workplace. Just because we allow women in various places doesn’t mean everyone’s comfortable with it, doesn’t mean that people still won’t think of the female as “the woman in the group” or that she only got to her position because of her sex. Until that happens I don’t think a society today will be able to really evolve.

I’m all for same-sex spaces, such as my high school (although I personally could’ve done without the Catholic-ness), because it encourages self-esteem in young women, something that is often lacking. Boys need their boy-time and girls need their girl-time to do things that they feel more comfortable doing in a single sex environment. But, they must also be able to adapt.

The same goes for racism and homophobia or any other form of oppression. While it is still prevalent in all societies to various degrees, on the surface oppression is going out of fashion. Discrimination is so passé. Hopefully it will someday actually be outdated.

I see some progression here, mainly in my generation. I see teenagers mingling on the streets together at all hours, I hear conversations nearly identical to those I hear back home. Younger people seem to be better capable of  accepting the coed world and adapting to it. There’s hope for the future yet.

I started this blog because a friend suggested it as a way to get out what I needed to get out, instead of ranting to my friends. I have just started my second trip to Tunisia (in north Africa, for those who don’t know, I didn’t know at first either), so while I’ll certainly chronicle important aspects of my trip, I really want to use this blog as a way to voice other opinions. A lot of them will be controversial, hot button issues like gay rights, abortion, etc. Not sure it’ll be much different from any other liberal, activist blog out there, but we’ll see. Let’s start and find out.

The death of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, KS, on Sunday shocked me. It shocked me first because the murder of any innocent person is horrible. It was less shocking to hear that he was not only an abortion provider, but one of the few left in the country who still performed late-term abortions. This actually made the event more tragic to me, yet not surprising given the amount of anti-abortion violence there is in this country. What also shocked me though was that he was only the 4th doctor to have been killed for this reason, the last one being over 10 years ago. I just thought there’d be more, although I’m obviously grateful that there aren’t. These murderers think that the people they are killing are themselves murderers, so how can they possibly justify their hypocritical crimes?

While researching anti-abortion violence in light of this event, I stumbled upon the Feminists for Life website. As a liberal and as a feminist, I always thought that this was an oxymoron. And especially if Sarah Palin is a spokesperson for their group, I certainly don’t want anything to do with it. However, upon reading their mission statement and the rest of their website, I actually feel as though they have the right idea in a lot of ways, more right than some other pro-choice groups. Not to say they’re a perfect match for me, as I still believe abortion should be 100% legal for so many reasons I won’t get into, but they really got down to the heart of the issue.

They say that they want to further sex education and contraception education and distribution so that we won’t have to deal with the issue of unintended pregnancies. They also want to create a better environment for single mothers, help subsidize day care, make adoption more available, etc, so that women who do choose to keep their babies have more options open to them. One of their slogans is “Women deserve better than abortion.” They’re right. Women do deserve better. They deserve better than being forced to have an abortion or drop out of school to raise their child, work 2 or 3 jobs so they can afford day care, live with a boyfriend/husband who beats them but they can’t leave since he supports her and the child, or any other horrible situation that could arise from having a child that one did not plan on.

I feel that the abortion debate in this country focuses way too much on the question, “Is abortion right?” Those who believe it is inherently wrong, we’re never going to change their minds. Nor will they change ours. It’s a matter of opinion. However, the real answer is how do we prevent unintended pregnancies, and how do we help those women who choose to carry the baby to term?

I survived 13 years of Catholic school (k-12, high school being all female). Naturally, my sex education consisted of “don’t do it before marriage or you’ll die and go to hell, and just in case you were still thinking of it, we’re going to show a bunch of young, vulnerable teenagers some gross pictures of STDs and skewed statistics so they’ll be too scared to do it even if they want to.” What a great message to send the youth. I was angry. Even at 14 I knew I was being bullshitted, that they were trying to force my decisions in life, that they were trying to take away my freedom to choose.

This anger towards my education (or lack thereof) led me to not only do my own research as a teen on sex and sexual health, but to become a huge advocate for reproductive rights. This not only includes access to abortion, but also access to birth control and accurate, available information on it. While FFL and I disagree on a huge, fundamental issue (the legality and morality of abortion) as well as other smaller things (like waiting periods), I feel that they’ve got the main points right. Many pro-choice women’s groups are fighting for the same things they are, such as the National Organization for Women, but some others don’t bother to look at the bigger picture. While I never thought I’d say this, FFL, you’ve gained my respect. Women DO deserve better.